I wonder if you could make a reality "game" that involves lifting poor villages out of poverty. Imagine that a team of show producers land in some African village and offer village leaders the following deal: If the village agrees to let the producers have full access to the village and its citizens, and broadcast them on the Internet and regular TV, the village will get substantial assistance in return.

The game model is that folks at home can sign up to help any one of the several villages in the game. There's no cost to sign up for a village, but you might decide later to donate your time, money or expertise. The team is comprised of the village plus the producers plus the audience for that village all working together. The objective is to make the most improvement in your village compared to the other teams helping other villages.

A key to making this work is that metrics for success need to be tracked. Perhaps literacy, illness, or even access to running water or electricity could be among the things tracked. That still leaves a lot of subjectivity, so perhaps judges could pick winners each week just to keep things competitive and interesting.

The audience at home would have access to social media tools to organize their efforts. They would pick leaders among themselves and establish their own set of rules for communicating and voting on ideas to try in their chosen village. If a team needs money for its plans, and presumably they would, it's up to them to figure out how to get it and how to spend it. They could tax themselves, sell ads on their social media tools, or offer promotional consideration to companies that help out, and so on. The rule is that there would be no rules.

The smarter teams would start by gathering as much information on the village as possible. They would want maps of the area to understand the need for roads and irrigation. They would want baseline statistics on whatever needed to be measured. And they would want to get to know several villagers particularly well in order to gather ongoing intelligence and negotiate their planned solutions. Producers would try to get the more interesting villagers to star in the production. Half of the challenge is getting the villagers to cooperate and accept the new ideas. That's where most of the drama would be.

An underlying assumption for this idea is that the world already has more solutions available than we have mechanisms for implementing those solutions. For example, the world already has technology for inexpensive hand pumps, water purifiers, solar power generators, and whatnot. The part that's missing is the process for getting the right equipment into the right villages without it later being stolen, broken, or ignored. This is where the producers are valuable. They are the hands and eyes on the ground. And perhaps the first hurdle is getting your chosen village onboard with the plan, and making sure they can provide security and training for whatever assets arrive.

Half of the entertainment value would come from the audience itself as it tries to self-organize, pick leaders, raise money, and decide what to do. I can imagine one team organizing by expertise, with engineers and teachers in key positions. Another team might choose leaders by how much they are willing to personally donate to the village. That would put the richest donor in charge. If the richest donor is also a Bill Gates type, that might be an effective strategy. And you can imagine that every person gets a vote that counts in proportion to their contribution. If you donate nothing, you still get one vote. But the biggest donor might get 100,000 votes. If you don't like that model, you're free to switch to a team that organized another way.

I think it would be compelling programming. And in the process it would create models for helping villages that are in the worst shape.


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Jun 3, 2012
Let's try it in the US first. The village of Detroit could use some help.
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Jun 2, 2012
Wonderful idea!
The show title could be: "Who's the true wretched, fatty?"
Jun 1, 2012
A more marketable TV show would be to "adopt" a poor African community, build them a clinic, schools, provide them improved infrastructure, electricity, and organize some basic civic services.

Then watch how quickly everything is destroyed and how much misery results from the interference. That should happen in less than a season, and would be a good lesson to Westerners who think they have all the answers.
Jun 1, 2012
When you go to a village after the 'helpers' have gone, you will find the villagers have reverted. On average, if the helpers were there one year, they revert in 6 months.

The UN will not allow employees to hold the position of aid and/or food delivery person for more than 6 months, as life expectancy in that position is 9 months. They still loose an average of 14 people a year.

You metaphorically castrate a man when you provide for his family better than he can. He will put a stop to it; better his family starve than have no respect for him.
Jun 1, 2012
Phantom II: "Even the UN has stated that a major reason for poverty in the world is corrupt and poorly structured and economically incompetent governments."

Corrupt? Check
Poorly Structured? Check
Economically incompetent government? Check
Generally incompetent government? Check

Porverty express, here we come.
Jun 1, 2012
Bollywood actor Aamir Khan did something similar for a tiny earthquake-hit village in Gujarat, India. He adopted it and transformed the entire landscape of the place. Reason - He'd just filmed his latest movie Lagaan before the quakes hit the place. During the filming, the crew had developed a special bond with the villagers. So when the news of the tragedy reached them, they decided to adopt the village and rebuild it.
Jun 1, 2012
Well, it's been done Scott. !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*
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May 31, 2012
Yeah, maybe we could build a bio-dome over the village and do experiments to see how they utilize materials in their environment. We could use the knowledge to help ourselves.
May 31, 2012
It sounds sort of like a reality show built around the Peace Corps. A nice idea, but too limited in scope to make a real difference. Now, if you could just make it so the governmental structure in poor countries could be changed to allow better economic results, that would make it a worthwhile effort.

Even the UN has stated that a major reason for poverty in the world is corrupt and poorly structured and economically incompetent governments. But if you tried to change them, you'd be doing so-called "nation building," which is supposed to be verboten.

Then, you have to realize how some forces within our country work against relief of immediate problems. Before you can address long-term issues like changing economic and corruption issues, you first have to keep people from starving. Enough food is produced to feed everyone in the world; the problem is how to distribute it before it rots.

One great idea that causes the eco-freaks to have mini-strokes is food irradiation. This causes less changes in food products than microwaving them does, and allows food to avoid spoilage for extended periods of time. But mention "irradiation" and many people scream loudly that it can't be used for fear of maybe causing cancer sometime decades from now. So their view is that keeping someone from starving is less important than maybe saving them from an unproven chance of some kind of disease when they're in their 80's, if they ever get there.

There are a lot of great possibilities that could greatly aid poor people in the world. Most of them are unable to be implemented because of the governments in those countries, the culture of the people, and the resistance of people in western countries from implementing them.
May 31, 2012
Way too complicated and time consuming for the average person, although a like the idea of an altruistic show. Maybe just focus on one villiage per season and see what can be done to help them in a few months. Set up a website similar to the donorschoose.org format where needs are identified up front and people can choose to partially or fully fund any item on the list. For those who can't afford to donate, they could get sponsors to donate by doing things such as liking them on Facebook. Then each week the show lets you see your donations at work. Anyone that pays for a large items gets mentioned - "Thanks to Scott Adams, we're vaccinating the entire 3rd grade class this week." Hopefully by the end of the season you can feel like one community was uplifted.
May 31, 2012
Culture shock may be in play in this scenario. Here we have an African village getting assistance and advice from a bunch of westerners imposing their cultural values on them. If only money was donated than the village would use it as they saw fit. Now you have a situation where people from outside their country will tell them how to use the money, who to use it on and so on. Lots of potential drama there, which is good for the TV show but not necessarily good for the village or the peace of mind for the villagers.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
May 31, 2012
I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a village like that - feeling as though the entire world were judging you on how well you accepted their charity.

it may not seem like it from a distance, but poor people in developing countries do make rational decisions based on their own experience - with calculations we don't always understand. A friend of mine does development work in Malawi - a country known for thwarting the best efforts of outside do-gooders like herself.

Her group channels aid through locals upon whom they rely to direct their efforts. It is a risk, of course. That sort of thing can lead to huge losses through corruption as locals channel aid in return for kick-backs and favors. In the case of this group, however, it has worked out well. In one case, the local leaders intercepted a shipment of soccer balls intended for the local kids. They gave them to the headmaster of the local school and instructed him to "award" the soccer balls to the hardest working, highest achieving students.

They are trying hard to keep western donors from turning their community into "a community of beggars." They don't want their people getting something for nothing. By giving the soccer balls to the star students, they instead were able to emphasize the benefits of hard work and achievement. Those students shared the balls, of course -but owning them gave them additional status in their community.

In another instance, donated clothing is handed out to those who meet certain objectives like cultivating higher-value crops, or improving irrigation. Nothing is ever provided for free. It works in that community - but it is the kind of system that really can't be imposed from a distance. It requires high-integrity, committed local community leaders on the ground - making the judgment calls on what will work best for their own people.
May 31, 2012
Your idea would work much better as a movie script about a reality show, rather than as an actual reality show. As someone mentioned above, the improvements would take much too long to play out for a weekly series. Also, with a movie script you could introduce all kinds of moral questions about the show (was it actually helpful), the producer (did he manipulate outcomes), the host (did he/she sleep with the natives) and the viewers (what was their real motivation), etc.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 31, 2012
This will never work in Africa. They don't have a competitive culture. If someone shows up in your village with nowhere to stay, a villager would offer his home. While I don't doubt that the American sensationalism might draw a TV audience, the locals will probably not appreciate being pawns in the game (even though they might draw some benefits in the long run). Adults already resent being in tourist photos.
May 31, 2012
How about doing one on bringing Native American villages into the 21st century. Not all of them have casinos, oil reserves or cigarette sales and some still need accessible potable water, educational facilities, libraries and basic amenities.
May 31, 2012
Do calafornia, spain, or greece count as villages? They're all in pretty bad shape and need fixing.
May 31, 2012
"the village >>leader and his essential backers<< will get substantial assistance in return." There, fixed that for you.
May 31, 2012
Scott: will you EVER publish your blog in a way that makes it easy to publish a link on Facebook in a NICE manner (and not just one dumb, weird, ugly link)?? You could attract so many more people.

As for this post, isn't that like Farmville in real life?
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 31, 2012
"...when led by white officers" and all that.
If you can avoid your idea getting shot down by pulling the race (and western arrogance-) card, it could actually work.

Sometimes I think how it would work out if a village just buys a management. They get some lawyers and ethnologists for making new village rules, agree on goals and start to work on management provided jobs, like farming cash crops. Blackwater protects the fields and the village and trains a local militia for the first year. The end result should be a kibbuz like settlement making a profit for its owners, i.e. the villagers.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
May 31, 2012
Great Idea, the only thing is that the producers would need to figure how to get scantily-clad 20-something American girls involved in the show to get the ratings to the necessary levels.
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